“Ottoman Arcadia: The Hamidian Expedition to the land of Tribal Roots, 1886” showcases, for the first time, a three-volume set of photographic albums that were prepared following a decree by Abdülhamid II and were eventually gifted to Otto von Bismarck, the chancellor of Germany.
In 1886, Abdülhamid II commissioned more than a dozen photograph albums destined for the Yıldız Palace Library. They were the result of an imperial decree that sent a documentary commission of court officials and artists to the earliest Ottoman settlements. Soon thereafter, three of these spectacular albums were gifted by the sultan to Bismarck, in commemoration of the political rapprochement between the two empires at the end of the 19th century. These albums later made their way into the Ömer M. Koç Collection in 2017 and they are the focus of ANAMED’s exhibition curated by Bahattin Öztuncay, Ahmet Ersoy, and Deniz Türker.
The albums reflect the accumulative efforts of the expedition team, comprised of prominent photographers and painters of the era. Their primary task was to document in detail the early Ottoman settlements such as the empire’s first capital city Bursa, as well as other cities like Yenişehir, İznik, Söğüt, and Bozüyük. The matted photographs and their elaborate handwritten notes in Ottoman Turkish and French provide detailed information not only on settlements, architectural structures, and the landscape, but also the semi-nomadic tribes with ancestral claims that resided in these regions.
“Ottoman Arcadia: The Hamidian Expedition to the Land of Tribal Roots (1886)” contextualizes the expedition as a remarkable instance where photography—a new visual technology of the 19th century—was merged with historical narratives to reconstruct dynastic myths and tribal memory. Visitors are able to travel through the exhibition, following the itinerary of the expedition and by tracking the making of the albums through an array of archival documents.
In conjunction with the opening, an academic volume, Ottoman Arcadia: The Hamidian Expedition to the Land of Tribal Roots (1886), edited by Bahattin Öztuncay and Özge Ertem, and published by ANAMED is available. The book features articles by Selim Deringil, Reşat Kasaba, Beatrice St. Laurent, T.G. Otte, Berin Gölönü, and Sinan Kuneralp, in addition to articles by exhibition curators Ahmet Ersoy and Deniz Türker.